While visiting the Bay of Islands, you have two main home-base options. Choose the thriving tourist center of Paihia as a jumping-off point for most cruises and outdoor activities—or the quaint, quieter seaside village of Russell. Here’s how to make the most of a 3-day stay.
Day 1: Water play
Take a closer look at all those beckoning islands. Since the 1920s, a boat has made its way around the islands to deliver mail and collect milk and cream from the dairy farms—you, too, can take this “cream trip” aboard a more luxurious vessel. Or, zip between Russell and Paihia on a ferry. Options abound for day cruises: zoom through the Hole in the Rock at Cape Brett by high-speed catamaran, sail through the maritime park on a vintage schooner, or swim alongside dolphins in their natural habitat.
Craving more water time? An overnight cruise settles the matter, with opportunities for island hikes, fishing and kayaking, and swimming and snorkeling while your boat is anchored at a picturesque cove in the bay.
Day 2: Cultural and natural history
Combine culture and nature at Waitangi River, a local estuary whose crown jewel is Haruru Falls. Paddle there by kayak, or join a traditional waka crew and explore the area by Maori-led canoe. Discover local customs at a Maori meeting house, and learn the haka war dance. Alternatively, book a day pass to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds just north of central Paihia. Stay for a cultural performance and a traditional-style hangi feast of meat and vegetables cooked over hot stones.
If time allows, check out Kerikeri, the earliest permanent British settlement in New Zealand—now a charming artists’ town.
Day 3: On the move
Time to go farther afield. Opt for a scenic plane flight to Cape Reinga, or take a helicopter ride to Cape Brett, making sure to land on top of the Hole in the Rock. Adrenaline seekers can parasail or skydive over turquoise waters.
If staying grounded is more your thing, a ride on a wheelchair-accessible motorbike trike is a unique way to tour the region. Or, go hiking in the subtropical Puketi rain forest for a glimpse of the Northland’s birdlife and ancient kauri trees. Alternatively, rent a mountain bike and pedal along the Twin Coast Cycle Trail, suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels.